Astragalus, also called huang qi or milk vetch, is derived from a bean, and it’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s believed to stimulate the immune system and serve as a potent antioxidant.
The official ruling is that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back astragalus's many uses. But herbalists still routinely deploy it to treat the side effects of chemotherapy; manage the treatment of type 2 diabetes; prevent and cure the common cold and upper respiratory infections; ease chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, anemia, and fibromyalgia; and generally shore up the immune system.
While they're not yet strong enough to convince western doctors, a few small studies have suggested that there may one day be support for the compound's healing powers. Early research hints that astragalus administered by IV or in a mix of Chinese herbs might cut down the diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea associated with chemo. And when given intravenously or orally as part of a combination product, it might help control blood sugar and insulin levels in type 2 diabetes patients. There’s also some early evidence to suggest that when people with chronic fatigue syndrome take an herbal mixture containing astragalus, they feel less tired.
“I prescribe astragalus to address extreme fatigue and to support and modulate weakened and suppressed immune systems, such as in patients undergoing chemotherapy,” says Janelle Louis, a functional medicine practitioner at Focus Integrative Healthcare in Overland Park, Kansas. “I also prescribe it to protect the kidneys when necessary, such as in patients with lupus,” an autoimmune disease marked by inflammation of the kidney.
How to Use It
Experimenters tend to give patients oral doses of up to 30 grams per day. But it’s worth calling up your physician before ordering astragalus supplements. “Astragalus can cause the body to eliminate quite a few drugs from the system more slowly—potentially leading to an accumulation of toxic levels of drugs in the body,” Louis says. “So individuals who are taking medication should speak with their doctors before taking astragalus.”